sábado, 25 de julio de 2015

Aristotle: focusing on education as training for freedom

Aristotle on the Fullness of Social Living

by Elizabeth Shaw

The life dedicated to intellectual pursuits is commonly understood as rarefied and prohibitively esoteric—a life suited to the few rather than the many. Often referred to as the contemplative life, it is associated with images of monastic isolation and is often deemed a life dedicated to (or even perhaps wasted on) puzzlings and musings that are useless from a practical perspective. Such a life grates on the pragmatic mindset and is subject to severe criticism, with critics decrying it as unproductive, self-indulgent, antisocial, and indeed stultifying inasmuch as it inhibits the flourishing of the human qua social and political animal. The absent-minded professor, ineffectual and irrelevant, is, for example, a stock figure of popular entertainment. Aristotle, however, saves this life from these and other sorts of criticisms, as he consistently maintains that theoria springs from the natural human condition and is ineluctably bound up with the fullness of social living.

Inasmuch as the city needs its proper parts, namely citizens, it needs education. Training and education produce virtue in citizens, and the virtue of the city lies in the virtue of its proper parts. [1] Thus education is essential for the formation of citizens, and hence for the existence of the city. In the Politics, Aristotle addresses at length the issue of education. He discusses both why the city needs it and what sort it should be, and he gives specific recommendations regarding particular subjects that ought to be studied. The principle that what is lower or worse exists for the sake of what is higher or better [2] runs through this discussion (as, for example, the body is for the soul and the appetites are for the intellect), and this logic culminates in the view that what is for its own sake is best. In asserting that theoretic reason is the highest thing in man[3] and maintaining that leisure or leisured activity is that which exists for its own sake, that which is the end of all other activities (including education),[4] Aristotle leads us to the conclusion that the best possible activity of leisure involves the employment of theoretic reason. As such, education must ultimately be for the sake of the theoretic life.

Having drawn this conclusion, we observe that education at once serves civic life and yet can be seen in some sense to extend beyond the city—beyond the practical, political life. The theoretic life, the life of the philosopher, is free and noble, while other forms of political or civic life are oriented to what is useful and bound to necessities.


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